Monday, June 20, 2011

Biblious National Rivalries

There's a saying in Scotland that the Irish invented whisky, but the Scots perfected it. In the world of spirits, a region's local beverage can be tremendously important to its identity; in addition to the economic boon of having a successful local product, there's a great deal of pride that comes with originating one of the great drinks. But when these claims are challenged, and worse, when multiple regions credit themselves with the invention of spirits like pisco, vodka, or absinthe, it can start some acrimonious rivalries.

Pisco: Peru vs. Chile 
Pisco - a grape brandy traditionally made from the Quebranta grape - is only made in Peru and Chile, and the two nations have been intermittently caught in legal tangles over who exactly has the right to produce it. Named for the port town of Pisco in Peru, it became popular with sailors transporting goods between Spain and its colonies in the 17th century. Peru's national Pisco drink is the Pisco Sour, while Chile prefers the Piscola (Pisco and cola). The verdict: hard to say. We're generally more fond of the Pisco Sour, and more Peruvian Pisco is imported to the United States, so it seems like Peru might be winning either way.

Vodka: Russia vs. Poland 

Whether you're talking wódka or водка, this once-specialty distillate is now the most popular in the world; it's no wonder that a nation would want to claim it as their own. The first recorded reference to vodka came from 15th century Poland in court documents referring to medicinal products, and many Russian documents also refer to a vodka in a medicinal context. The word finally appeared in Russian dictionaries by the 19th century. Though Scandinavian and French vodkas have dominated the market for the last few years, Russian vodka has held America's popular imagination for decades - think Stolichnaya in Mad Men.

Absinthe: France vs. Switzerland 

While it's undisputed that Switzerland is the birthplace of absinthe, thanks to Dr. Pierre Oridinaire or Henroid Sister in Couvet, Switzerland, and wormwood spirits have held a place in herbal medicine since long before that, it's France that has claim over absinthe's bohemian romantic image. It's the "French method" of serving that introduced the use of a (sometimes elaborate) slotted spoon and sugar cube in service, and the counterculturists that have kept the green fairy in the imagination of such a wide audience. It was in France where the phylloxera epidemic ravaged the vineyards, where the urbanites shifted their drinking habits from red to green, and where the temperance movement ravaged the spirit's public image with rumors of it's causing a host of mental illnesses. However, Switzerland still produces some of the world's finest absinthes, both of the blanche and verte varieties, and while there may be less frenzied romanticism (and misinformation about hallucinogenic properties), the more straight-laced image of Swiss absinthe still has an extremely relevant place in the market. While there has been some legal controversy in this arena as of late, we think that both have a well-deserved place in our collection.

So, ultimately, we celebrate variety in spirits production. While we understand the pride one takes in one's drink - we're certainly pretty attached to the spirits we sell - more options mean that, inevitably, there will also be more top-tier products being made; if a distiller is passionate about their product, then national borders seem a little less important.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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